Swords Across the Thames
Alfred the Great of Wessex marries his daughter Lae to Aethelred, ruler of the neighboring Mercians. Trained as a warrior, Lae joins her husband, father and brother in a war against the Vikings. Their goal is to force this enemy out of what is now called England. Forts are built, battles are fought, and Lae becomes renowned for her military prowess. She is eventually acknowledged as ruler of Mercia, and secures peace with the Welsh, Irish and Scots before dying in 918.
Her life is not as charmed as it appears. Encounters with Eiric the Viking and his family cause her to question her hatred for their people and the happiness of her marriage. And strife with her only daughter Wyn means the Mercian succession is insecure.
This novel starts well. Its details evoke the Dark Ages, and its characterization is good. The author knows her facts, and keeps a consistent point of view. Yet as the story progressed, my interest waned. This may be because I know the era well, and my interpretation of facts differs from Dr. Garwood’s. I think, though, it has more to do with careless prose: the repetition of words and of facts, and occasional blatant contradictions. An example is the scene on page 377. Lae sends all servants away, but moments later, one is present. It was also hard to follow the passage of time. Finally, two thirds of the book concentrate on the 890s, Lae’s formative period. When her principal achievements of 907-918 are recounted, they have the disappointing sense of an afterthought.